Interview: Michael Biehn Talks About the Heated Set on ‘The Divide’ and Making His Own Films

If you happened to be in Austin for SXSW last year, you just might have seen The Divide, a dark post-apocalyptic film from up and coming French director Xavier Gens. And if you did, you probably noticed the familiar face of Michael Biehn. Biehn made his name in classics like Aliens and The Terminator, but these days he’s starting to write and direct his own films.

FSR had a chance to speak with Kyle Reese himself about the tensions on the set of his latest film and the differences in finding himself behind the camera instead of in front of it.

Obviously, The Divide is a difficult film, a bleak and depressing film. Can you tell me what it was like on set filming that type of movie.

The thing about working on the movie was that Xavier basically gave all the actors the opportunity to kind of like throw the original script away and do whatever we wanted to as far as writing, improving that sort of thing. Some actors did more, some did less. My character for instance, Mickey, was originally the antagonist in the movie all the way through. The Mickey that was in the original script doesn’t bear any resemblance to the Mickey that I ended up writing, along with Eron Sheean who was helping the actors write their characters. So we were kinda writing as we were moving forward and we were doing the improvisations during people’s scenes. That caused a lot of animosity between the actors because some people would come in thinking they were going to do their big scene that day and somebody else would be improving something off to the side and the cameras would shift to them. So the actors started having a lot of animosity and there was a lot of fighting that went on, a lot of tension on that set. Mickey actually didn’t really have to take sides because he was kind of a loner but there was a lot of tension and a lot of people that were really really pissed off.

I work with Friedkin, I work with Jim Cameron, I work with Michael Bay, you know these guys all have this reputation but I’ve never worked on a set before that had that much tension. It felt like violence could break it out like at any moment, somebody was going to get hit somebody was going to get hurt. It was kinda scary actually. It was a very volatile set.

Wow, it sounds like. That comes out in the film and frankly, it works for the story you’re trying to tell. Looking back on it do you feel like that was the best way to go about filming this type of movie?

Yeah, well I think Xavier knew that from the very beginning and I don’t think we understood. One of the things about the movie also is we shot it in sequence, so the first day was the first day, the second day was the second day and so and so forth. So a lot of times the movie would move away from where we thought it was going to go. I mean there was a script, but it was very loose. And we thought it would go one way and all of sudden we were playing something else and doing something different. Characters were acting differently than you thought that they would act. I think that it was Xavier’s plan all along to kind of pit the actors against each other and to bring people into scenes to take other people’s scenes away from them so that he could create the animosity and he did. And the actors took the bait, they really took the bait. It was very volatile situation as far as acting, I’ve never been on a set before that had anywhere near that kind of volatile situation and like I said, I’ve worked with some pretty intense guys.

This movie comes at a time when you’re also starting to branch off and write and direct yourself. Do you feel like this was a different experience because of that?

Well, my [writing/directing] experience is completely different because I didn’t think that I had the money to make a movie. And some guy told me he had the money, but people always say that. I said well put your money where your mouth is and all of a sudden his check didn’t bounce. And when his check didn’t bounce, I realized that I only had three weeks to write a script and mount a production. So I had three weeks of pre-production. During that pre-production where I was crewing up, casting, dealing with the Screen Actors Guild, props, makeup, locations all of that kind of stuff we had three weeks to do. During that three weeks, I wrote the script. And then after I wrote the script, I only had 12 days to shoot it. I think we had 30 some days to shoot Xavier’s movie. So they were two completely different experiences. When we did The Victim, I said listen I’ll work for this amount of money because it was such a low amount of money. When you make a movie in 12 days dude, that’s…like I’ve never done anything in less than twenty-four days before and even that was quick, you know. I said, I’ll make this movie but I have to be able to make all of the creative choices, all of them, I have to make all of the production choices and I have to decide who we’re going to sell it to and when we’re going to sell it. And I said that to the guy who put up the original money, which wasn’t much but they agreed. So I had that all on my back but at the same time too, I got to do whatever I wanted. It was a completely different experience. I did learn, Xavier did a film called…


Frontier(s), yeah. When I watched Frontiere(s) I noticed how beautiful his nights were. And I said to him on the set, how did you create the nights? They took on a feeling of their own. And he said, “oh Michael, I shoot this day-for-night.” I’m like day-for-night?! I didn’t even know they shot that way anymore. So then I realized that I had a script, it was a page-one rewrite, but the script took place mostly at night. If we had to light that movie it would have taken us like three months to make. But we just shot it day-for-night and we shot it in 12 days. We were doing like 35, no 45 setups a day and one camera. It was just a panicked rush but it turned out really well, we’re really proud of it. Anchor Bay just announced today that they picked it up.

I saw that, congratulations.

Thank you, there was a group of companies that were interested in it, but I always wanted Anchor Bay to get it and they stepped up, so I’d like to thank them for that. And then we’ve got a guy that’s going to put us in college theaters around the country. A lot of colleges have theaters on the campuses. So we’re going to be in 50 college theaters before we go to the DVD market, so we’re kind of excited about that too. I mean it’s just a little grindhouse, a little exploitation movie. So I said to myself, well I don’t have any money, I don’t have special effects makeup, I can’t do zombies, I don’t have visual effects, what do I got? And I looked over at my girlfriend Jennifer Blanc and I said, wow, how about you getting naked for me for this movie? And she said sure, I’ll get naked. And I go, you got any friends that’ll get naked? She said, maybe Danielle Harris from the Halloween movies? And I go yeah, you think she’ll get naked? Turned out she’d get naked, so I thought OK, I got that. Dirty cops is always good, little drugs, little bit of torture I thought I could afford, a little bit of action and I thought fuck it, I’ll just throw in a serial killer. And I just fucking made it, I wrote it in that 3 week period of time and we rolled right into the 12 day shoot and did it. I think the production had a little angel sitting on its shoulder the whole time because I think we got really lucky. It turned out really good, we’re real happy with it.

That’s awesome. Can we expect more writing and directing output from you?

Well, you know the most important thing about directing a movie or acting in a movie is finding a really good story. So I’m in the process right now of trying to find a really good story that I can afford or that somebody will work with me on. I would like to direct again if I can find  a really good story. I’ll certainly be acting again.

Well thanks very much for speaking with me, I really appreciate it.

You’re welcome.

The Divide is currently in limited release.

Luke Mullen has a beard.

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